CINCINNATI -- A sink in the standings over the past month and a general manager in his first year running the baseball operations department will likely make the Reds a team to watch over the next two-plus weeks ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
In the offseason, Reds GM Dick Williams maintained he would listen to trade proposals for any player and be opportunistic. That was clear in January when the team -- already short of proven starting pitchers -- moved Dan Straily to the Marlins to acquire three prospects that included power-armed starter Luis Castillo, who is currently in the Reds' starting rotation.
The most obvious trade chip the Reds have is All-Star shortstop Zack Cozart, who is in the final year of his contract and can be a free agent after the season. But there might be other possibilities. The name of closer Raisel Iglesias has already hit the rumor mill for interest, but he would likely require a huge haul in return. More realistic bullpen pieces who can be moved are veterans like Tony Cingrani and Drew Storen.
Williams and the club are looking to add young, controllable players who have the ability to stick around for a while. It's been the Reds' MO for the past several years and it's brought back current core players like Eugenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Jose Peraza.
Williams made it no secret in the winter that he was looking to deal Cozart but lacked shortstop demand from other teams. Injuries -- and his great first half -- could improve the odds that Cozart is dealt. The D-backs lost Nick Ahmed for several weeks to a hand injury. The Orioles are missing J.J. Hardy with a broken wrist and the first-place Nationals will be without Trea Turner, who also broke a wrist. Washington is even more desperate for bullpen help, however, and sources told MLB.com before the All-Star break that it was interested in Iglesias.
What are they playing for?
Although the Reds are 39-49 and 9 1/2 games behind the surprising first-place Brewers in the National League Central, the division wasn't strong in the first half. The defending World Series champion Cubs are two games under .500. A fast start to the second half could get Cincinnati back to at least the cusp of contending and playing meaningful games later in the season. Because of the Reds' strong lineup, defense and back end of the bullpen, manager Bryan Price and the clubhouse moved past the idea of rebuilding and felt like the team could compete on any given day. Ultimately, the rest of this year is about building momentum for a stronger 2018.
The road ahead
There are nine games left against Milwaukee, which also came into the season as a rebuilding club. Should the Brewers start fading, the Reds could take advantage. There are also 10 games left against the underperforming Cubs. One particularly fun late-season series is coming Sept. 22-24, vs. the American League East-leading Red Sox.
Key player Joey Votto had spectacular second-half performances in both 2015 and '16, but both came after lackluster or poor first halves. The rest of 2017 could be about Votto building NL Most Valuable Player Award credentials and establishing career highs, especially home runs. In his 2010 NL MVP season, he slugged a career-high 37 homers. With an NL-leading 26 homers already in 2017, he's well on his way to surpassing that.
Prospects to watch
Yet to be seen is right-hander Tyler Mahle, who already threw a perfect game for Double-A Pensacola in April and is impressing since his recent promotion to Triple-A Louisville. Mahle, the No. 8 prospect in the organization according to MLBPipeline.com, is not on the 40-man roster but has certainly earned a September callup at minimum. Don't count him out, however, for making his big league debut sooner.
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.